February 25, 2024

A Country Searching for Engineers to Serve Its Nuclear Needs

If it proceeds with plans to build 44 nuclear plants over the next decade, India needs to add 10,000 to 19,000 skilled people to the nuclear industry, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. That is about 1,000 to 1,900 people a year.

But India’s top universities are graduating only about 50 nuclear specialists a year. Meanwhile, special graduate programs approved by the Department of Atomic Energy to address the shortage will add only about 100 master’s-level graduates this year.

“There is a significant gap” between the manpower India’s nuclear industry needs and the work force it is getting, said Kameswara Rao, the executive director of energy, utilities and mining at PricewaterhouseCoopers in India. “If this program is going to take off,” he said, “you need to have engineers trained in the basics.”

Worldwide, personnel shortages in the nuclear power industry and other science-related careers are a challenge, thanks to the lure of big money from finance jobs and start-ups.

The dearth is particularly severe in India.

As this still-developing nation builds seaports, roads and other big infrastructure projects, companies are paying top dollar for engineering students from the best schools. At the same time, the continued growth of the outsourcing industry is attracting good English speakers, with its possibility of international careers and competitive pay. Entrepreneurial types, meanwhile, are being drawn to emerging industries like telecommunications and retail.

Still, the challenge to building a nuclear work force is not primarily money. Starting salaries in the nuclear industry are about 30,000 rupees ($678) a month, comparable with other white-collar, entry-level jobs in India. And the positions can come with perks like subsidized housing.

The tough part seems to be persuading top students to study nuclear power in the first place — and, if they do, to keep them in India.

“We find that all the bright students who go to elite schools, after engineering they do not do science,” said R. B. Grover, the director of Homi Bhabha National Institute, a special university set up by the government to train students in the industry.

The few that do are often poached immediately by nuclear programs in the rest of the world. Of the dozen graduates from Delhi University’s doctorate nuclear program this year, eight got job offers from European companies, Mr. Grover said.

Homi Bhabha National Institute has 1,100 students enrolled now, mostly from smaller towns and second-tier schools, who hold bachelor degrees in engineering. The Institute provides a one-year training course in nuclear sciences, and then the students do on-the-job training and are certified by the government before they can work in a plant.

Indian nuclear experts say that number needs to jump significantly, or India will need to scale down its nuclear plans.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/15/business/global/15engineers.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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